God can multiply our efforts

Jeff Garrison
Bluemont and Mayberry Churches
July 31, 2022
Luke 9:10-17

I’m not sure what happened to the title slide… Like my tie? It ties into the story. Sermon recorded under the picnic shelter at Bluemont Church.

At the beginning of worship:

Do any of you know what miracle is found in all four of the gospels? Let me give you a hint, it has to do with food.

Meals are important in Scripture. It’s with a meal the Jewish people recall the Exodus experience, when they were freed from bondage in Egypt. It’s with a meal Jesus has us to share with one another to recall his ministry along with his death and resurrection. Symbolically, heaven is described as a banquet or a wedding feast.[1]

Meals and feeding others are a part of what the church is to be about. It may be a hot dog roast or a potluck dinner for members, a soup kitchen or food pantry for those in need. We must eat and it’s best when we share food with others. 

Today we’re going to look at the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000 (plus) in Luke’s gospel. It’s the only miracle that can be found in all four gospels, so it’s a big deal.[2]

Before the reading of Scripture

For the past couple of months, we’ve been working our way through the middle part of Luke’s gospel as we consider how Jesus’ teachings and ministry might inform today’s church. Last week, we ended with Herod asking a question. “Just who is this guy doing all this stuff?”[3]

Luke likes to let questions linger and then have them answered in a later story. We saw this after the storm on Galilee. Jesus calmed the wind and waves, and the disciples ask each other, “who is this guy?”[4] We’re left hanging without an answer until they pull ashore. There, a demon-possessed man shouts the answer: “Jesus, Son of the Living God.”[5]

In today’s passage we’re not going to get a direct answer to this question. That’ll come next week. But we get an indirect answer. Once again, we see Jesus doing only what God can do. He performs a miracle that is every bit as incredible as manna that fed the Hebrew people in the desert.[6] He feeds a lot of people. 

Feeding 5,000 plus

We’re told there are 5,000 men there, but the word here is not the Greek word that’s often translated as men but means humankind.[7] This is a word that means male, which implies there are a lot more than 5,000 people present if we account for women. Of course, that’s a minor detail. It makes little difference if it’s 5 or 10 thousand if all you have are a few small loaves of bread and some fish. As a mere mortal, we’d be unable to feed everyone. Like it was in last week’s sermon, Jesus trains the disciples to depend upon God. 

Let’s listen to how Luke tells this story of our Savior: 

Read Luke 9:10-17

An unexpected gift

“Jeff Garrison.” On my first winter of seminary, while walking the hallway between classes, I was shocked to hear Sam Calian, the seminary president, call out my name. He wanted to see me in his office. I wondered what I’d done. I felt I was being called into the principal’s office, a place I got to know well in elementary and junior high.

When I stepped into his office, I was even more surprised by his question. “You’ve cooked duck, haven’t you?” 

“Yes,” I said. I had no idea where this conversation was going. I thought it best not to tell him that the two ducks I’d cooked, had been slathered with an orange liqueur sauce. This was an attempt to impress potential girlfriends. It worked on the first one, so I tried it again. 

“I’ll give you some ducks if you want to prepare them for some of the students,” he said. 

“Where did these ducks come from?” I asked.

“One of the board members gave them to me. He shoots them up in Canada. They’ve all been cleaned and packaged. I don’t plan to cook them, so they’re yours if you want.”

These were not going to be those plumb store brought ducks.

I began to understand. As a male Southerner, he assumed I hunted and prepared my own meat, probably over a fireplace in some run-down piney wood cabin. 

An impromptu party

Not sure what to expect, the next day he told me the ducks were in the freezer in the cafeteria. I went to look. The box held about twenty birds. There wasn’t anything else to do but to call for a party. And, in the pre-Google days, figure out how to cook these birds. 

I gathered up a group, made assignments for side dishes, and borrowed two large baking pans from the cafeteria. That Saturday, we had a heck of a party. The next year, we had even an even better party. These ducks, like the bread and fish in our story, were a gift that kept giving.

The setting of our reading:

As we continue along in the middle part of Luke’s gospel, we learn that 12 have returned from their missionary trip. They tell Jesus all that’s happened as they head to Bethsaida. The name of the town means, “The house of fishers.” Appropriate, as it’s the city of the fishermen: Peter, Philip, and Andrew.[8]

Our Savior tries to pull the 12 off by themselves, probably to debrief. Yet people still want to see Jesus. His popularity is probably helped in these parts by Peter and the other local boys who have done good. So now, thousands of people flock to Jesus. 

Jesus welcomes the crowd

And what does Jesus do? He welcomes them. Jesus tends to their needs. He heals the sick and teaches about the Kingdom of God. But as the sun drops closer to the horizon, the disciples worry. Where are they going to get enough food to feed all these people. So, they suggest that Jesus disperse the crowds so they can find food. It’s an honest suggestion. People must eat. Besides, to have thousands of hungry stomachs grumbling wouldn’t look good for the local boys. 

The disciples’ problem

Jesus tells them to feed the crowd. Now it’s their problem. Looking at what little they have available, five loaves and two fish, they ask if they should go into the towns and buy all the bread available. With so many, we can imagine the shelves of bakeries looking like the shelves of grocery stores the day before a forecasted blizzard. 

What we learn from the other Gospels

Now, at this point, other gospels provide different information. John’s gospel tells us the bread and fish came from a boy’s lunch. Mark depicts Jesus being more forceful with the disciples who appear to question his ability.[9] Luke has Jesus give orders and the disciples being obedient as they separate the crowd into manageable groups of fifty. Then Jesus looks to heaven as he blesses and breaks the bread. And miraculously, the disciples feed the crowd. 

Two words: “All” and “Filled”

We’re told that all ate and were filled. The words all and filled are both significant. The later would have reminded the disciples of Jesus second beatitude as recorded by Luke, “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled.[10] The word “all” is perhaps more significant. In Jewish society, the eating of food was highly regulated. One had to abide by laws over the type of food and utensils, how it is prepared and who is clean. The dining room table excluded those not clean. But here, the kosher requirements are overlooked. Everyone is welcomed.[11]

Not only that, but after everyone has been fed, there is an abundance of food. Each of the twelve haul away a basket full of scraps. 

Other feeding stories

This story harkens back to the story of the feeding of the Israelites in the desert, as well as looks forward to the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, which Jesus instituted on the night of his betrayal. The sharing of food is important for Christians. And not just among ourselves, but for anyone hungry. It’s not just the faithful, those who believed Jesus, that were feed that day. All were fed… 

First point: feeding people

The first point to realize that the church, which is called to exhibit God’s kingdom to the world, is to be generous. We are to do what it can to care for the needs of others. “Feed them,” Jesus said. At the end of John’s gospel, when Jesus talks with Peter, he insists three times that if Peter loves Jesus he should be feeding or tending his sheep. That’s the church’s role, then and now, to feed people. 

Monthly, we take up the two-cent a meal offering that goes to help fight hunger. We are to help those who are hungry with food. Furthermore, we help those who hunger for knowledge and understanding by sharing Jesus’ story. The church is about feeding the hungry, regardless of what they’re hungry for. 

Second point: God blesses our offerings

The second point to understand from this passage is that when we trust and give to God, God can bless and multiply our gifts. 

What would have happened if one or two of the disciples slipped away with the five loaves and two fish to satisfy their hunger? They could have had their own little party. But they shared even when it seemed they had only a drop in the bucket of what was needed. Don’t ever think you don’t have enough to make a difference. What little we have, when give to God, can be enough. 

As Paul tells the Corinthians, God uses what is weak and lowly to show his glory in the world.[12] Think about the widow giving her mite.[13] We are to be generous with what we have and trust God to make up the difference.


Food has a way to bring us together, as it did with the 100s of groups of 50 gathered around Jesus that afternoon. Like those duck dinners at seminary, sharing brings us closer. We all need to eat, and it’s good to eat with others. It’s even better to share with those who need, whether its physical nourishment or just companionship and encouragement. Let’s do it. Amen.

[1] This idea has its roots in Isaiah 25:6. The find the wedding concept in Revelation 21. Matthew 8:11 also describes a gathering of people from all around for a banquet with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

[2] Matthew 14:13-21, Mark 6:30-44, John 6:1-14

[3] Luke 9:7-9.  See my sermon on the larger passage: https://fromarockyhillside.com/2022/07/building-relationships/

[4] Luke 8:22-25.  See my sermon on this passage: https://fromarockyhillside.com/2022/07/let-jesus-calm-our-hearts/

[5] Luke 8:28. See my sermon on this passage: https://fromarockyhillside.com/2022/07/from-demon-possessed-to-gentile-evangelist/

[6] Exodus 16.

[7] James R. Edwards, The Gospel According to Luke (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2015), 265. 

[8] Edwards, 265. 

[9] John 6:1-15, Mark 6:30-44.

[10] Luke 6:2.

[11] Edwards, 267. 

[12] 1 Corinthians 1:18-31. 

[13] Luke 21:1-4

Some of God’s gifts are slower in coming. Butternut squash on the vine.

Heading to Iona

In 2017, I spent a week in a Christian community on Iona, an island in the Scottish Inner-Hebrides. This is a description of my journey to the Island. It’s an all day trip from Edinburgh, where I’d stayed with friends. I had hope to lead a group to Iona afterwards, but the next summer, the Abbey was closed for renovation. In 2019, it was only partly open, then along came COVID! This is an edited post that I am migrating over from another blog.

Leaving Edinburgh 
With Ewan, on Arthur’s Throne

After a quick breakfast of porridge with Ewan, we head to the train station. I thank him for his hospitality and walk down the ramp to board the waiting 7:15 AM train for Glasgow. This is the first of my multiple leg journey to the Isle of Iona. Minutes later, the train rolls through the countryside, stopping every so often at a station where an automatize voice of a woman encourages folks to “Please mind the gap when alighting this train.” As it’s Saturday, the train has few passengers. The conductor stops and talks, telling me where the best to get coffee in the Glasgow Station (which he recommends over the coffee they serve on the train). I ask him where I can find a bank machine (they don’t call them ATMs over here) and we talk about the West Highland Line which I’ll be taking to Oban.

In Glasgow: banking troubles
Trains leaving Edinburgh station

I only have fifteen minutes in Glasgow. I grab coffee and then head to the bank machine. My card is denied. I try again. It’s denied again. The call for the boarding the 8:21 train north. The next train is two hours later, and I don’t want to wait. I have some cash on me, maybe 50 pounds, but know that once I get to Iona, I will need cash. I’ve been told most places won’t take plastic and there are no bank machines. Thankfully, I’ve prepaid for the week. At least I will have a place to stay and can eat.

The train pulls out of Queen Street Station and soon we’re leaving the city behind as we race along the north bank of the Clyde River. I try to reach my bank by cell phone. This isn’t a local back, it’s a rather large regional Midwestern bank, but even their call center has “banker hours.” Its 3 AM back in Ohio. I hope to have time to get things straightened out during my short layover in Oban. I want to kick myself for not calling them before leaving the country, but I try to put the worry behind me. There is nothing I can do at this time. I look out the window. It’s rainy and gloomy.   

Heading north

At Dulmuir, a group of young women board. They’re loud and keep jumping back and forth from seats. I offer to trade with the one of them who sits across the aisle with a couple from Glasgow, so they could all be together. Furthermore, I can be on the side of the train with the water. The train is now moving northwest, running alongside Gare Loch and Loch Long, both saltwater lochs open out into the Firth of Clyde. The couple tell me there’s a naval base along here for submarines. 

Their son has spent his life at sea, mostly as an officer on merchant vessels. The woman tells me about his ship being at Newark, New Jersey on that fateful day in 2001. As it was mid-day in Scotland, he called to talk and was on the phone when the first plane crashed into the World Trade Center. He has since given up traveling the world and today is a captain of a buoy and lighthouse tender. His ship is in Oban for the day, so they’re taking the train up to have lunch with him.

The train leaves Loch Long and passes over a short bit of land before coming into Talbert, on Lock Lomond, one of the more famous lochs in Scotland. We run alongside the loch for ten or so miles before climbing into the hills north of the loch. 

At Crianlarich, which appears to be just a train station in the woods, the train splits. They had informed us in Glasgow to sit in the front two coaches. We’re now bound for Oban. The last four coaches head for Fort Williams and Mallaig (a line I plan to ride next Friday). After a few minutes, we’re riding through the woods. After Dalmally, we come alongside Loch Awe (what a wonderful name). In the middle of the lock are the ruins of a castle. We are heading west now, and soon pick up Loch Etive, which is open to the sea.  I’ve recently read that the furthest you can get from the sea in Britain is sixty-five miles and looking how these saltwater lochs reach so far inland, I understand how that’s probably the case.

Still worrying about my bank card as we head into Oban

My worry over my bank card has bothered me all morning. Then it dawns on me that I have another bank card on me. While it’s a bank I don’t use as often, generally it is just to hold cash, it’s local and a few days before I left, I had made a deposit. Doing so, I told the teller of my plans for travel out of the country. She assured me she’d make a note on my account so I wouldn’t have a problem. I’m more than a little relieved as I’m not sure I’ll have time to contact the other bank when in Oban.  

Buoy Tender at Oban

After Connel, the train turned south and we’re soon in Oban, an old town built around a harbor. It claims to be the seafood capital of the world. The couple point out their son’s ship, docked just behind the ferry terminal. I bid them farewell and wish them a wonderful lunch and walk out of the train station looking for a bank.  It all falls in place. There’s a Bank of Scotland with an ATM just across the street from the train station. On the other side is the ferry terminal. I have nearly an hour before it leaves. I withdraw 200 pounds from the bank, then walk across the street and buy lunch from a vendor (a tuna and cucumber sandwich and an apple). 

Ferry to Mull

Taking the lunch with me, I board the ferry for a fifty-minute trip to Craignure on the Isle of Mull. With spendable cash in my wallet (my American dollars aren’t much good), I’m at ease. I find a place to sit on the upper deck. I’m sheltered from the weather, but am outside. I sit down and enjoy my sandwich as the boat pulls away from the port and makes its way through the harbor.

The harbor has several sailboats moored, as another makes its way into the safety behind the break wall as we push off from the pier. The day is stormy, and I wear a rain jacket. The entrance to the harbor is rather narrow. The ship slows to let a small passenger ship (or a large yacht) make its way into the safety of the harbor. As we go outside, the waters are rougher. I can’t imagine sailing in such waters in the small boat as had just made for the harbor. 

Thoughts on Iona
Cross in front of Iona Abbey

As we leave the mainland, I think about my destination. I’ve wanted to visit Iona for a long time and now can achieve this goal. Iona has been a destination for pilgrims and the curious for nearly 1500 years. In 563, an Irish abbot named Columba and a group of twelve disciples (sound familiar) land on Iona, where they set up a religious community. At this time, sea travel was easier than traveling overland on non-existent roads, and the small island becomes a center of faith and learning that extends throughout the British and Irish mainland and the islands that surrounded them. The Book of Kell’s was supposedly produced here, and some think the practice of carving large stone crosses which are prominent in Ireland and on some of the Scottish Islands, also began on Iona. The community thrived until the 10th Century when Viking raiders began to pillage the islands. Although a few monks continued to live on the island, the center of learning was moved to Ireland where it was safer from these raids. 

In the 12th Century, after the Viking threat had waned, the island began a new period of importance as a Benedictine monastery was founded on the site of Columba’s monastery. About the same time, an Augustine nunnery was also founded on the island. These two continued until the Scottish Reformation in 1560. Afterwards, the site slowly began to crumble, but became a place for artists and authors to visit (a who’s who of British literature in the 18th and 19 century made journeys to Iona). Eventually, the site became property to the Duke of Argyll, who allowed it to be used as a place of worship for all denominations (Church of Scotland/Presbyterian, Roman Catholics, and the Scottish Episcopal Church). In the late 19th Century, he turned the site over to a Trust who worked to restore the ruins. In the 1930s, a new Iona Community emerged and continues to this day.

Crossing to the Isle of Mull
Rough Waters

Approaching Mull, at Craignure, we pass the ruins of the Durant Castle. This country feels old. Soon, we pull up to the pier and those who have cars below are asked to go below and prepare to disembark. Along with maybe a hundred or so others, I disembark down the gangway to a line of buses. I find the bus for Iona and stow my backpack in the luggage compartment and pay the 15 pounds (round trip as I’ll be returning this way next Friday) and take a seat in the back.

It’s nearly fifty wet miles across Mull, mostly on one lane roads (with turnouts so that vehicles can pass one another). The bus runs across Glen More in the center of Mull, and then drops down to the Ross of Mull, where we run along Loch Scridain. The driver is a bit of a maniac, gunning the engine where there is nothing ahead and at times stomping on the brakes in time to pull into a passing place.  It’s still raining but the countryside is beautiful, with lots of rocky hills, plenty of wildflowers, fields covered with ferns, and interesting varieties of cows and sheep. The distant hills and mountains are shrouded with fog. After nearly an hour, we pull into the small town of Fionnphort, where we unload.

Ferry to Iona

Everyone on the bus is headed to Iona, with most spending a week as a part of the Iona Community. I began to introduce myself to folks who have been on the same train and ferries going back to Glasgow. We all stand at the ferry terminal, with our packs and suitcases beside us, watching the ferry bounce around in the water as it makes its way across. Iona is easily seen in the distance. This ferry is a lot smaller than the other one. There are just two cars going across (a special permit is required to take an automobile to this island that’s only 5 miles long). Most of us are on foot. We board and I find a sheltered place up top, where I can watch the island approach.  

On Iona
Abbey on Iona

The Iona Abbey is easy to spot. Soon, I’m on the last leg of my journey, a fifteen-minute ride across the Sound of Iona, in which I gain my sea legs. The ferry pitches and rolls and struggles to dock against a strong wind and tide.  Once we arrive, we time as we get off the ferry, so that we avoid splashing our feet in the water. There are vehicles waiting to take our luggage, while it’s up to us to walk the third of a mile to the Abbey and the MacLeod Center (I’m staying in the later). 

At the McLeod Center, I find my bunk and unpack. It’s an hour before dinner, so I lay down and watch through the window the grass blow in the wet wind. I love the sound of the wind, and soon am napping to its calming presence.    

Worship in the Abbey

Dinner is simple but delicious: carrot and turnip soup, good chewy bread, raw vegetables, fruit, and desert with coffee. Afterwards, we spend a few minutes getting to know everyone, learning our duties for the week (I’m to help at breakfast and will chop vegetables for the lunch and evening meals). At 7:30 PM, we walk in the rain down to the Abbey for the welcoming worship service. Lighted with candles, the sanctuary is beautiful. It’s still light after the service. This far north it will be for several more hours. I’ve been up a long time. Tired, I go to bed early. 

Building Relationships

Jeff Garrison
Bluemont and Mayberry Churches
July 24, 2022
Luke 9:1-9

Sermon recorded at Mayberry Church on Friday, July 22, 2022

At the beginning of worship:

Have you ever thought of yourself as a “Little Jesus?”  What if I suggest that’s what we are to be? As a part of Christ’s church, we become Jesus’ hands and feet in the world. We carry on his mission of love and sharing his grace. This task was first given to the 12 disciples and has passed down through the centuries to us. We’re going to learn today about the first time Jesus sent out the disciples to do his work. 

Not in it to win it

We are called to make a difference in our world. As followers of Jesus, we live by different values than the world. As Andy Stanley, in his newest book proclaims, the church is not about winning. Jesus didn’t set out to win the world. Instead, he gave his life for the world, and calls us to also sacrifice for the good of others.[1] It’s not about winning, but about showing Jesus’ love in our lives and everyday encounters. 

Too often we use terms like “winning the world for Christ.” In the late 19th Century, the student volunteer movement for missions set its goal as “the evangelization of the world in this generation.” While a noble goal, it is too easy to think the burden is upon us. While God uses us to display a new way of relating in the world, or as the founding documents of the Presbyterian Church state, “to exhibit the kingdom of Heaven to the world,”[2] we’re not in a competition for victory. The victory belongs to Jesus already. Let us call ourselves to worship.

Before the reading of scripture

Since their calling in the 6th chapter of Luke,[3] we have seen how the twelve listened, learned, and observed Jesus. This was in preparation for the moment they would assume the work of Jesus on their own. At the beginning of the 9th Chapter of Luke, they’re given a trial run.

While our reading today focuses on the 12 disciples, Luke points out that there were more than 12 disciples, including some women.[4] However, the 12 take on special significance. These learn from watching Jesus as he teaches and ministers toward those in need. While they remain Jesus’ disciples, they are to begin to take on a more active role in sharing Jesus’ work in the world. Eventually, eleven of the twelve will become Apostles and responsible for taking Jesus’ teachings to the end of the world.[5]

Disciples in the Ancient World

The concept of disciples gathering around teachers was well-known in the ancient world. Centuries before Jesus, the Greeks had developed such a relationship between teachers and students. Plato was a disciple of Socrates and remained so even after his teacher died. He would always be a disciple of Socrates, even when he had his own disciples or students, who attended his Academy. 

Aristotle was one of Plato’s disciples, but he, too, developed disciples of his own and taught then in Athens’s Lyceum. Other Greek thinkers gathered their own disciples. A disciple is to learn from their teacher, their master, and then apply their learning in the world.[6] As we’re disciples of Jesus, we should be doing the same.

Read Luke 9:1-9

Backpacking: Traveling Light

One of the things I appreciate about backpacking is how such travels puts everyone on the same plane. Rich and poor, you’re all the same once you get a day’s walk into the woods. Ironically, the one who can get by with the least has a much richer experience than the one who tries to drag everything inside a backpack. Carrying a 70- or 80-pound pack, as I’ve seen some do, is absurd. It might be okay going to war, but if you’re out to enjoy God’s creation, such a pack will only slow you down, hold you back, and exhaust you. It is hard to enjoy the view of the mountains when you have that kind of burden. 

Grandma Gatewood

One of the legends to have hiked the Appalachian Trail is Emma Gatewood, better known as Grandma Gatewood. She first hiked the entire trail in 1955 at the age of 67. She would hike it twice again.  Along the way, she carried a few clothes, supplies, and a little food. She took a shower curtain for when it rained. A denim bag served as her pack. She was the definitive an ultra-light backpacker. Because she took so little, she often depended on the generosity of strangers for food.[7]

The disciples traveling light

Jesus sends the twelve out across the landscape and has them travel very light. They don’t even have a staff, which is okay because they’re not taking anything extra with them. A staff is good when you need a third leg to help you balance, such as when you have a heavy pack.  Of course, a staff is also good to discourage angry dogs and to push snakes out of the path. For those, I suppose the twelve had to depend on God or a good neighbor.

Depending on God and Stranger

The twelve carry no food, no money, no extra clothes…. Jesus’ purpose is two-fold. He wants the disciples to learn how to depend on God and on the goodness of others. Furthermore, by having the disciples depend on the goodness of others, Jesus forces them to meet and encounter others along their way. What a better way to get to know someone than to share a meal. Jesus sets up the disciples to emphasize personal relationships and not to be burdened by stuff.[8]  

 No hedging of bets

Going out into the world with nothing, the disciples cannot hedge their bets or provide themselves a social safety net. Perhaps another reason Jesus has the disciples to go without money is another of our human traits. He knows if the disciples wait until they had enough money for their mission, it would be like us waiting to have enough money to have children. Few of us would ever get to the point where we felt we had enough. This is urgent business, and the disciples need to hit the road. 

Modern hobos

Several years ago, I picked up a book in a bargain warehouse about modern day hobos.[9] The book was written by this one hobo who often traveled without a ticket by rail. Sometimes he’d even fly to a distant city to ride a particular scenic line though the mountains. Occasionally, this guy and his friends would encounter real hobos, but they generally kept their distance. 

I wondered what the real hobos thought of them. After all, these were all successful and professional men. They used cell phones to communicate with each other about the best car to jump aboard or how to avoid the railroad police. 

Another thing separated them from real hobos. A real hobo might cook his stew in a tin can over a fire. When they got hungry, they’d jump off the train, pull out a credit card, and rent a room in a hotel. After cleaning up, they’d go out for a nice meal. Such abilities set them apart. 

Think about riding an open car over a particularly cold pass in the Rockies. Instead of continuing to freeze, they get to warm up in a hotel’s hot tub. When you travel like this, you don’t exactly open yourself up to make friends with the real hobos.

Taking the easy way out

As humans, we often take the easy way out. Knowing this, Jesus sends the disciples out in a manner that forces them to depend on God and others for their safety and comfort. 

Furthermore, Jesus wants the disciples to appreciate what is offered to them. When they come into a village and someone opens their home, they are to remain there until they move along. They’re not to accept a better offer, say from the owner of the villa upon the hill with the swimming pool. Accepting such an offer might offend their earlier host. Sent out in this manner, they to be grateful for what they’re offered. 

Biblical Hospitality

I should say something about the New Testament concept of hospitality.[10] It’s not throwing a nice party for friends.[11]Anyone can show hospitality to friends. But when such hospitality is shown to a stranger, that’s special. 

As the disciples learned from their master, they’re to now trust him as they participate in the expand his mission in the world. Their assignment is to utilize word and deed as they expand Jesus’ ministry. They have learned Jesus’ true nature, now they’re to share it with the world.[12]

The word spreads to Herod

Interestingly, Luke doesn’t tell us of their success, just that they went out preaching and teaching. Instead, he lets us know that Herod, the ruler, has his ears to the ground. He knows something is up and begins to ask questions. “It can’t be John,” Herod thinks. “I’ve beheaded him. Is it another prophet?” And how many of them? It’s no longer this one guy I’m hearing about, they are all over the place, in different villages at the same time. 

We’re told that Herod wants to see Jesus. This Herod is the son Herod the Great whom we’re told in Matthew’s gospel, killed a lot of babies to do away with Jesus.[13] Herod Jr. is neither as cruel nor as capable of a letter as his father.[14] He expresses an interest in seeing Jesus, which he will do, but only during Jesus’ trial. Herod only wants to see one of Jesus’ miracles, as if he’s a traveling magician. Jesus refuses and so Herod and his soldiers mock Jesus before sending him back to Pilate.[15]

In a small way, the disciples begin to build the foundation upon which the church would be built. The word gets out through their preaching and mercy. Not only do the masses hear about Jesus, so does the ruler in the land.[16]

The task of the 12 has now become ours. We are to share the good news. While we’re not always equipped to heal like the twelve, we are able to offer hope and encouragement as we walk with others on their journey toward healing. 

Doing our part

Think about how you might do your part. Who do you know that you might reach out and invite out for breakfast or a cup of coffee and spend some time seeing how they’re doing? Who might you offer to help, to show the agape love of a disciple? We make the world better one disciple at a time. Discipleship is more about one-on-one relationships than big crusades or campaigns.[17]With whom might you develop such a relationship? Who can you reach out to know? Invite them to church with you and to Sunday brunch afterwards. Build relationships!

Like the disciples, we’ll never be fully prepared. Instead, we step out in faith and trust God to give us what we need so that Jesus might make a difference in someone’s life. Trust God and build relationships with others. The twelve did it and so should we. Amen. 

6:29 AM this morning. Sunrise with fog in the valley

[1] Andy Stanley, Not In It To Win It: Why Choosing Sides Sidelines the Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2022). For my review of Stanley’s book, Click here. https://fromarockyhillside.com/2022/07/catching-up-on-my-reading/

[2] Presbyterian Church USA, Book of Order, F-1.0304.

[3] Jesus had called disciples earlier as in Luke 5:1-10, 27-31, but in Luke 6:12-16, he specifically calls “the Twelve.”  

[4] See Luke 8:1-3 or my sermon on the text at https://fromarockyhillside.com/2022/06/were-called-to-be-farmers/   Luke also mentions the 70 whom Jesus later sends off 2 by 2. See Luke 10:1-12.

[5] The one missing of the 12, who did not become an Apostle, is Judas. 

[6] For an insight into the various discipleship schools of Greece, see the opening chapters of Arthur Herman, The Cave and the Light: Plato Versus Aristotle, and the Struggle for the Soul of Western Civilization (New York: Random House Paperbacks, 2014). 

[7] See Ben Montgomery, Grandma Gatewood’s Walk: The Inspiring Story of the Woman Who Saved the Appalachian Trail (Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 2014). 

[8] James R. Edwards, The Gospel According to Luke (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 2015), 262. 

[9] William T. Vollmann, Riding Toward Everywhere (HarperCollins, 2008). 

[10] Fred Craddock, Luke: Interpretation, A Biblical Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville, John Knox Press, 1990), 121.  For one of my sermons on hospitality from Hebrews 13, see https://fromarockyhillside.com/2021/06/christians-should-be-outstanding-citizens/

[11] Jesus emphasizes this point in the Sermon on the Mount. “And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?” Matthew 6:47. 

[12] Edwards, 260.

[13] Matthew 2:7-18

[14] Edwards, 666.

[15] Luke 23:7-12.

[16] Norval Geldenhuys, The Gospel of Luke (Grand Rapids, Eerdman, 1983), 267-8.

[17] Edwards, 262.

Catching Up on my Reading

Today, I’m just trying to catch up on some books I’ve read over the past few weeks… If one doesn’t interest you, you can skip it and move on to the others.

Andy Stanley, Not in It to Win It: Why Choosing Sides Sidelines the Church 

Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2022), 231 pages. 

This is a book that needs to be read. And there should be no excuses. Stanley is a master communicator. He’s easy to read. Unlike many books I read, I didn’t have to look up a single word. But his message and the warning for the church is clear. The evangelical church, of which he’s a part, has sold out Jesus and are more interested in winning politically than following Jesus. And because of this, they have lost the message of love and grace. 

Stanley grew up Southern Baptist. His father is Charles Stanley, one of the best-known preachers in the South Baptist denomination. In 1995, Andy Stanley started “North Point Ministries,” a large multi-campus church in Atlanta. He acknowledges that many of his members probably disagree with him. He refuses to endorse political candidates and even challenges the militaristic metaphors often used in church. We may sing “Onward Christian Soldiers,” but Jesus did the opposite as he laid down his life for us. 

Not everyone is going to like what he has to say in this book. In the summer of 2020, his church decided to stay closed because of COVID. Many people accused him of selling out. However, Stanley saw it as loving and caring for one another, especially the most vulnerable. His decision to keep the church virtual through 2020 caught the attention of CNN. They interviewed him, which upset others. After all, CNN was not their network of choice.  Stanley defends his action by reflecting on what Jesus did and suggesting that if CNN was “the enemy,” that was even more reason to accept the invitation to talk to them. 

While Stanley stays mostly neutral on political themes, he challenges some political events like like the Jericho March (A group of pro-Trump supporters who marched on state houses and on January 6, the Capitol in a belief that Trump really won the election). He also points out that using hateful speech toward those whose lifestyle we disagree with or those of different political views from ours as an expression of our faith have gotten Jesus’ message wrong. While he acknowledges that this happens on both side of the political aisle, he appears to come down harder on those who are more like him, on the conservative spectrum. 

Stanley makes the point that we are to follow Jesus. This means we can’t just believe. Jesus calls us to action, which is based on love for everyone, not just those like us. While he encourages his followers to participate in the political realm, he doesn’t come out to say they should vote in a particular manner. 


The one place within Stanley’s thoughts that bothered me is that he seems to have “moved on” completely from the Old Testament. He joked at one point about one sermon he gave from the Old Testament, but it seems to me he draws his theology exclusively from the New Testament. His emphasis on actionable items may sound like works too many. I think we live in a tension that is found with the two testaments and between law and gospel. However, I wouldn’t let this discourage anyone from reading this book. Stanley challenges us to reconsider how the church handles politics. It is a challenge worth taking. 


“You can’t make disciples of people you demonize publicly, and label as enemies of the faith or the state.” (27-28)

“One of the many things I appreciate about Jesus is that he was never concerned about guilt by association. If he had been, he would have stayed in heaven. He would have certainly refused to associate with me.” (37)

“When we reimagine Jesus to fit our partisan agendas, we rob the world of the message that changed the world… We cancel the message that canceled our sin.” (58)

On there being no difference between believing and non-believe party members: “You rarely hear Republicans or Democrats who consider themselves Jesus followers make or draw that distinction. But it would be easy to do if national leaders were more committed to their faith than their political party.” (85)

“We are not at war with the culture. Culture-war Christianity is not simply a waste of time, it is diametrically opposed to the teaching of Paul and the example of Jesus.” (129)

“The path of least resistance is always to complain about everything and do nothing about anything.” (203)

Rick Bass, Why I Came West: A Memoir

(Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2008), 238 pages. 

Rich Bass is writer who lives in Montana’s Yaak Valley. However, he grew up around Houston, Texas. He attended college at Utah State in Logan, where he lives in the “Gentile Sandwich, a floor within the dorm for non-Mormon students. The floors above and below were all filled with members of the LDS Church. Afterwards, he worked in the oil exploration business in Mississippi, before heading back west. He found his home in the Yaak Valley and had lived there at the time he was writing the book for 21 years. 

Bass refers to this book as a memoir. While I agree there are memoir-like parts to the book, especially the first part, much of the book seems more a series of essays around creating designated wilderness areas in Bass’ backyard. 

I am drawn to and comforted by Bass’ paradox. He is an environmentalist that hunts (he stocks away the meat from an elk and a deer and some birds). He is amused at how those who read or hear him speak are shocked by this. Bass also uses a chainsaw and believes that we can’t stop cutting trees. He is for more responsible land use and is comfortable with what many as a paradox. 

Bass also shares how he has been attacked by those who see wilderness as a threat. Sometimes the attacks are frightening, but often they are only emotionally hurtful. Yet, despite this, he continues to save the remaining wild parts of the world in his neighborhood. 

Favorite and humorous sections

My favorite chapters (or essays) in the book are “Landscape and Imagination” and “The Poison of Language. In the first, Bass draws on how the duality and tension within landscape gives birth to narrative. Bass, writing as an environmentalist, like George Orwell’s essay “Politics and the English Language,” points out how language is often abused to sell us stuff. It can be a product, a land management practice, or a political idea. However, language also holds the power to enchant us and encourage us to protect our wild spaces.

The most humorous essay are his bear spray stories. Reading them, I began to wonder if carrying bear spray is a little like arming yourself with a gun for protection. Statistically, the person you’re most likely to shoot is yourself. And Bass seems pretty good at ending up on the wrong end of pepper spray.  The funniest story was sneaking what he thought was his date’s breath freshener from her purse when she had gone to the bathroom.  A quick whiff of her self-defense device and he was no longer in the mood and she didn’t have anything to worry about that evening. 

I was drawn to this book because I had never read any of Bass’ books and felt I should get to know him. As one who has spent a dozen years in the American West, and who still finds it enchanting, the title also title drew me in. I recommend this book if you have such feelings for a particular place on earth.  Bass tells a good story. 


“The West has never been anything but a colony of the extractive industries, feasting (with the benefits of full congressional subsidy) on the splendor of these public wildlands. But the extractive industries have been very shy in doing everything they can to promulgate this myth of the rugged and completely independent individual: enhancing the already existing wall that stands between the rural West and the rest of the outside world…” (45)

“What kind of environmentalist am I, really, to be still using petroleum and to still be using wood? Almost nothing, really, with regard to our huge presence in the world these days, is in the least bit sustainable. This certainly doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do the best we can. I think what it does man is we shouldn’t be high and mighty, and should never forget the unaccountability of the awful and immense cost of the joyous gift of us being here—and again, while trying to do as little harm, or even as much good, int hose areas of our lives where we are most active and passionate, it may be perceived there is a sin or paradox here, to be desiring perfection and absolute sustainability even when it is not possible, and to likewise be advocating for the protection of pristine country even while seeking elsewhere to be more actively managed and manipulate the fringes of an ecosystem.”  (92-3)

James R. Edwards, From Christ to Christianity: How the Jesus Movement Became the Church in Less than a Century 

(Grand Rapids: Baker Academics, 2021), 290 pages include indexes, bibliography, maps.

Our knowledge of the first few centuries of the Christian era is shrouded. While the book of Acts focuses on the early growth and mission of the church, it only follows one strand, the taking of the gospel to Rome. Other threads of mission that saw the church growth in Africa including Alexander, into Asia including India and China, and deeper into Europe remain a mystery. In this book, James Edwards attempts, where possible, to reconstruct the history of the early church during its first century.  

Each of the chapters within this book focuses on a movement. From rural to urban, Edwards looks at how the “Jesus movement” that began among rural Galilean peasants spread to urban areas while dying out in the place of its birth. Other chapters focus on books the physical movement from its first urban center, Jerusalem, to Rome and into Asia and Africa. Other chapters focus on a shift of language from Hebrew and Aramaic to Greek, from a Jewish to a Gentile movement, and a movement occurring through persecution. Much of the book focuses on the break from the Jewish tradition, as the emphasis moves from Torah to Kerygma, from the synagogue to the church, from a Jewish ethos to a Christian one, from an emphasis on the Passover to the Eucharist, from Sabbath (Saturday) to Sunday, and from a scroll to “codex” (or books). There are also chapters focusing internally on the church as it goes from a movement known as “the Way” to “Christian,” and as the leadership shifts from the Apostles to Bishops. 

A few interesting things I found in this vast study: 
  1. The split between those from those of the Jewish tradition and of the newer Christian tradition didn’t fully occur into the Jewish revolt in the 2nd Century. I always assumed the split came after the Jewish revolt of 66 AD. While the earlier revolt impacted the two traditions going separate ways, Edwards maintains it wasn’t until the later revolt that the split became permanent. 
  2. Pentecost was not the church’s beginning, as we often say and celebrate. Rather, it is the church’s equipping. 
  3. The synagogue became a place that followed Jews in comparison to the temple. The temple was a place where Jews travelled. Likewise, the church would forever “follow” believers rather than being a place to travel.  

This is a well-researched work. While Edwards draws heavily on both the Old and New Testament for understanding, he also draws from other primary sources. He explores the few early Christian works still available along with Jewish and pagan writers. I recommend it to those serious about early church history. It would make an excellent textbook for an advance class, perhaps in a seminary, on the topic of the early church. 


“Eliminating evil does not result in a state of virtue; indeed, it may invite the return of greater evil.”  (166_

True martyrdom is not a single act at the end of life, however, but bearing witness to the gospel in daily life through ‘Patient endurance, imitating the ‘goodness of the Lord,’ and the example of the Lord himself.”  (166-7)

The early church did not speak of the Christian way in terms of ease and comfort, of low demands or no demands, but as a rigorous and demanding contest.” (167)

“That God divulges himself as God precisely in lowliness,’ concludes Eduard Schweizer, ‘means that his community must differentiate itself from the world by its willingness to take on lowliness.’” (198, this is Edward’s translation from German of Schwiezer, Gemeinde und Gemeindeodnung.)

“The Apostolic Fathers admonished readers not to allow the name ‘Christian’ to become a substitute for Christian behavior… ‘We should not be known as Christians, but really be Christians.’” The last is a quote from Ignatius in a letter to Magnesia (Western Turkey). (232)

Do you have faith or are you just a spectator?

Jeff Garrison  
Bluemont and Mayberry Churches  
Luke 8:40-56  
July 17, 2022

Sermon recorded at Mayberry on Friday, July 15, 2022

At the beginning of worship

The most important part of having a relationship with Jesus is the potential to restore life. 

  • Jesus provides us a reason to live. 
  • Jesus wants us to live abundantly. 
  • Jesus wants us to follow his lead and show compassion.

Restoring life isn’t just about eternal life, but a renewed life in the present, lived out within the church. This morning we’re looking at two stories where Jesus restores life. In one, he brings a child back from the dead. But the other is just as important. He restores life to an outcast. 

Of course, both will later die. That is part of the human experience. But imagine what these two did with their renewed life in the time they had left. Or think of the excitement of the parents of the little girl who died and the joy of the woman’s husband and family who had mom back. 

Jesus calls us to live knowing we are loved and cared for and watched over by God. We’re also to live this life within a church community who also watches over us. What does this mean for your life? 

Before reading the Scriptures

Last week we saw Jesus and the disciples on the West Bank of Galilee, where he dealt with the unclean. He was in a Gentile area, so the people themselves were seen as unclean. He healed a man who was seen as crazy and filled with demons, one who would have been shunned by Jews just as he was shunned by Gentiles. And he was in an area where they raised hogs, in large numbers, an animal according to Jewish law was unclean. 

Today, we see what happens when Jesus comes back to the East Bank. They must not have had bad weather on the return trip, or if they did, we’re not told. Now that he’s back in Jewish territory, do you think his run in with those unclean ends? Not a chance. Let’s see. 

Read Luke 8:40-56

Opening day 2007

Opening day of the college football season, 2007, featured the Appalachian State Mountaineers against one of the dominate teams throughout the history of college football, the Michigan Wolverines. Michigan was rated five in the national polls among the top colleges. Appalachian wasn’t even in the same division. 

At the time, I was in Hastings, Michigan. A few months before the game, my Uncle Larry called. I’ve always thought of Larry as an older brother. He’s a lot closer to my age than my dad’s, his brother. As a graduate of Appalachian State, Larry wanted to see this historic game. He was able to get tickets and planned to fly up, if I could provide a place for him to crash and drive him the 2 hours across the state to the Big House in Ann Arbor. 

Larry’s visit

He and his daughter, McKenzie, who was a couple of years older than Caroline, came up a day early. We toured some around West Michigan, but we made sure we got to bed early Friday night so we could get an early start on Saturday morning. Larry and McKenzie along with Caroline and I, got up early and after breakfast headed out across the state on Interstate 94. 

I could tell Larry was nervous. He kept returning to his hope that the game wouldn’t be a blow out. After all, Michigan was in a completely different division. They might have well been playing against an NFL team. In a sense Appalachian was offered as sacrificial meat to one the top programs in college football for their opening day triumph.

We arrived in Ann Arbor a little after 9 AM, for a game that didn’t start till 1. It was good to be early. Once we got off the exit, it took another hour of bumper-to-bumper traffic to park. It takes time to get 107,000 people into the stadium. After parking, we enjoyed the pregame, going to a tailgate party for Appalachian State alumni. A little after noon, we moved toward the Big House and found our seats. 

The Game

The game began. But it didn’t begin as expected as both teams quickly put points on the board. The Mountaineers dominated the second quarter, racking up 21 points and leading at half by 14. In the second half, Michigan slowly crawled back. With four seconds left in the game, they had the ball. They were on the Mountaineers ten- or twenty-yard line. They were down by just two points. All they needed was a field goal, a simple chip shot, and it would be over. 

The Mountaineers blocked the kick. The game was over. 

Driving back across Michigan, my uncle floated somewhere above the vehicle. He couldn’t believe it. Was Larry a spectator without faith? 

Of course, football is just a game. 

Do we have faith or are we just a spectator? 

When it comes to Jesus, let me ask this question. Do we have faith? Or are we just spectators? Think of our story this morning. We have two examples of faith: a concerned father and a sick woman. Both experienced an incredible miracle, while most people present in the crowd are just spectators.[1]

Our story picks up where we left off last week. Jesus and the disciples had just sailed back across Lake Galilee. A crowd waits for Jesus on the east bank. Jesus’ popularity has risen, everyone wants to see him. But how many of these fans of his really know what’s up about him? They’ve probably not yet heard the news of the demons and the pigs or the calming of the sea. And what’s happening next will blow their minds. 

Jesus is God

In the previous weeks, we’ve seen Jesus as God: forgiving sinscontrolling the weather, and freeing someone from evil. Now, Jesus not only heals; he restores life. 

As Jesus comes ashore, he’s met by Jairus, leader of a synagogue, a man of standing within the Jewish community. Jairus is desperate for his daughter is dying. He pleads for Jesus come to come and heal his daughter. Jesus agrees and they head off. They must push through the crowd to make their way forward. Everyone wants to see Jesus, and most probably have no idea that he’s on a life-saving mission. After all, in the first century, there were no ambulances and sirens and flashing lights to clear a path. 


Then, Luke takes the story another direction. As a literary device, it’s a clever interruption. There is a girl in need, but Jesus must first attend to something else. This helps built tension in our minds. We’re all with Jesus and Jairus and ready to run to his house. But Jesus pauses. 

Someone has touched his garments. Jesus wants to know who. Peter realizes the impossibility of such a question. Many people are pressing in on Jesus. Everyone is touching him. You can’t help it. Think about being on a Japanese subway if you ever experienced such travel at rush hour. If not, you’ve probably seen pictures of those stationed on the platform to push passengers into the railcars so the door can close. Everyone has been touching Jesus and now he wants to know who. He acknowledges that power had left him. 

Female issues

We’re told a woman, who wasn’t trying to hold up Jesus and in his important mission, had sought to touch him so that she might be healed. And that’s what happened. After twelve years, she’s well. She was suffering from what my mother used to call “female issues.” If a woman from church was in the hospital and we asked why and mom said, “female issues,” we knew not to ask any more questions.[2]

The problem for her is that such bleeding has gone on a dozen years. This also meant she was unclean. The Old Testament laws said so.[3] She wasn’t even supposed to be in the crowd. But now we learn that she has been made well. And when she identifies herself, Jesus pronounces such when he tenderly calls her “daughter,” and tells her it was her faith that made her well. It was her faith that led her to seek out Jesus. Healed and now able to be accepted back into society, Jesus sends her on her way in peace.

Now back to Jairus’ daughte

Way to go, Jesus. That’s a nice interlude. Good ministry. However, while dealing with the woman, Jairus’ daughter dies. Messengers arrive and inform Jairus it’s too late, not to bother Jesus anymore. From our experience, death is final. People don’t just pop up from the casket and ask if they can be first in line for the ham and funeral potatoes with a serving of Jell-O salad and a slice of Aunt Delilah’s coconut cake.

A corpse is unclean

Jesus, however, assures Jairus that if he trusts in God and doesn’t sink into despair, everything will be alright.[4] So, they continue to the house, where their lies and corpse that had been a 12-year-old girl. Like the bleeding woman, a corpse is also considered unclean.[5] But this doesn’t bother Jesus, who takes three of his closest disciples and goes into the room where the girl lays dead. He sends out the mourners. After all, they think he’s nuts. Then he addresses the girl. We’re told her spirit returned. 

Now back to Jairus’ daughter

God gives us life. Every breath we take is from God. The girl, like Adam in the garden, comes to life once the spirit, the breath from God, enters her.[6] God gives life. 

Realizing she’s been through trauma, Jesus has food brought to her and then, surprisingly, tells her parents not to tell anyone what happened. 

Role of Faith

Jesus acknowledges that the woman’s faith has made her well. For it was her faith that caused her to seek out Jesus, the great healer. He also told the father to have faith, and everything would work out. However, Jesus’ role is undoubtedly necessary here, for it wasn’t faith alone that generated these events. As one commentator noted, faith doesn’t generate these events, but healing does proceed from faith.[7]  

Perhaps we could best look at it this way. We’re to have faith, not in that healing will occur, but faith that we are loved and cared for by the Almighty in an intimate way, as shown by Jesus in today’s story. And Jesus’ example of caring for us, is to be our model, as we strive to care for a world that is often dead. We’re called to have faith because we know God is at work despite the evidence to the contrary.

We’re not to be spectators

We’re not called to be a spectator. Life is not a football game. We’re called to participate with Jesus in this world, by showing the concern he showed with others. Let us love as Jesus loved. Amen. 

[1]Fred Craddock, Luke: Interpretation, a Biblical Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 1990), 120. 

[2] I was reminded of this reading Scott Hoezee’s commentary on the parallel to this passage in Mark 5:29-43. See https://cepreaching.org/commentary/2021-06-21/mark-521-43-3/  

[3] Leviticus 15:19, 25.

[4] James Edwards, The Gospel of Luke (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2015), 257.

[5] Leviticus 22:4, Numbers 5:2. 

[6] Genesis 2:7.

[7] Craddock, 120. 

Today’s morning glory (taken at 6 AM)

Riding on the City of New Orleans

Over New Years Eve and early January 2005, I took a group of college students from First Presbyterian Church of Hastings, Michigan to New Orleans. We helped with the relief work after Katrina. The amount of damage from that hurricane still haunts me. This is a piece I pulled up from the past, that tells of our ride back to Michigan. Most of us took the train. Two other adults flew down and rented a large van for us to travel around. We stayed at St. Charles Avenue Presbyterian Church, which had survived the storm in relatively good shape. Through Project Rhino and the Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, we had a foreman who drove a truck and pulled a tool trailer that had all the equipment we needed as we mucked out houses and stripped them of furniture, drywall and old insulation. After they dried out, another crew would come back and treat the studs for mold and then another group would drywall the homes and prepare them to again be habitable.

Also, 2005 was before I had a camera in my phone. I was still shooting film for the few shots I took. Sadly, I didn’t take any shots of Bo or his barbecue joint.

Everything ruined!

About ten minutes out of Greenwood, Mississippi, I finally have a cell signal. I call Bo’s Barbecue Bar and Grill and order half a dozen barbecue pork sandwiches and ribs. I’m not sure what to expect. I met Bo on the trip down. It was early in the morning and I was out on the platform taking a walk in the warm Southern air, while Amtrak s changed the crew. There, I met an old black man who talked about his barbecue joint and gave me his card in case I wanted something to eat on the way north. 

A week later, I’m back on the train, heading north. We’re running late and are told the stop will be as quick as possible to make up some time. When the train stops, I run to Bo’s bar. It’s a dive. A half a dozen patrons are drinking beer. 

“Hey Amtrak,” one calls, “you’re going to Chicago, why the ‘Stiller cap? (I’m wearing a Pittsburgh Steeler cap). 

One night we went down to the French Quarter. I’m wearing my “Stiller” hat

I’m the only white boy in the place. Bo calls me back to the kitchen. He takes each rib, dips it in sauce, places a couple between white bread, wraps them in foil and places them in a bag. I grab the order, toss him some money, and run back to my car. I step back on the train as the whistle blows. We resume our northward journey. The ribs are heavenly and a big hit with everyone. It’s been a long time since that Shrimp Po Boy I had at lunch at Crabby Jacks.

Our eyes were opened on our last day in Na’Arlens. After five hard days of work, mucking out homes and pulling down drywall and hauling unsalvageable stuff (which was most everything) to the street, we have a tour of the worst of the city. We’re taken down into the ninth ward, to the place where the levee broke allowing a barge to sail into the neighborhood. They’re still searching houses for bodies here and nothing we’ve seen can compare to the destruction. It looks more like what I’ve seen on the news of the Asian tsunami. Washed from their foundations and broken into splinters, these homes are demolished. There’s nothing to be saved. We also go and look at the break off the 17th Street Canal. The destruction is great, but not nearly as bad as the ninth ward. Some neighborhoods are recovering rapidly, others will take years if they ever rebuild.

I wake up overnight in Memphis early, it’ll be a longer break. The engine takes on fuel. It’s cold, but the fresh air is invigorating. I step out of the car, walk up and down the tracks for a few minutes before heading back to my seat. Most people are asleep.  A few are reading. One lady, her head back with her mouth gaped open, sleep soundly. Wickedly, I think I should take a picture. She appears attractive, but not in her sleep. After a few minutes of reading Stephen King, On Writing, I turn out my light, fluff my pillow up and place it against the window, falling asleep to the rock of the train.

Next think I know, it’s 5:20 AM. We’re in Mattoon, Illinois. On the platform, a group of eight young Amish women wait to board. They’re just outside my window and from the second deck of the Superliner, I’m looking down on them. They appear as a flock of ducks, turning their heads back and forth in unison, looking up and down the track, as if they’re a little uneasy about the journey they’re embarking upon. I fall back asleep. At 6 AM, I get up, go downstairs to the bathrooms, and wash up before heading to the lounge where coffee is available as well as a plug to charge my computer.

As light begins to come upon the land at dawn, the scenery has changed from when the sun went down yesterday evening. The blue skies, cypress swamps and pine hills are replaced with grayness. The sky is gray, the bare trees are gray, when we go through towns, buildings are gray as well as the crumbled remains of factories. The spaces between towns are filled with bare fields that in another five months will showcase corn and soybeans. It’s over one of these fields that the sun finally breaks through, just above the horizon, burning off the morning fog. For a few minutes, the sky assumes a pinkish hue, only to quickly return to the gray as the sun continues its march across the southern horizon. Railroads merge in and out. We’re nearing Chicago. Someone spots the Sears tower and we soon complete the first leg of our journey. Just three more hours on a train and we’ll be back in Michigan. Tonight, I’ll sleep in my own bed. 

The work group

From Demon Possessed to Gentile Evangelist

Jeff Garrison   
 Mayberry and Bluemont Presbyterian Churches   
July 11, 2022   
Luke 8:26-39

Sermon recorded at Bluemont on Friday, July 8, 2022

At the beginning of worship:

Why would you invite someone to church? I hope it isn’t to see or hear me talk, although I would enjoy meeting your friend. But that’s not why we should invite someone to church. We invite them because we care. 

When you get down to it, the only valid reason to invite people to worship with us (or to a meal or a Bible study) is that we want them to experience Jesus. The church is God’s vehicle to share God’s mission. Whether inside a building or outside under a maple tree, God uses the church, along with the workings of the Holy Spirit, to bring people into a relationship with Jesus Christ. I hope you want to see people encounter and get excited about Jesus, because that’s what we’re to be about. 

That said, when Jesus encounters someone, he sends them back into the world, to do his work, as we’re going to see today. As someone said many years ago, evangelism is one beggar giving another beggar a morsel of bread. Yep, we’re all beggars here. And we depend on the bread of life, on Jesus Christ, our Lord. 

Before the reading of Scripture:

Last week we heard about Jesus and the disciples in a boat sailing across a stormy Lake Galilee. We were left hanging with a question. Who’s this dude named Jesus? Today, we learn what happens when they reach the other side. We also get an answer to that hanging question. 

Read Luke 8:26-39

A Western set on the other side of Galilee: Is that why it’s called the West Bank?

This story sounds a lot like a good Western movie.

In a the classic western, a community is in trouble. Some force threatens their ability to settle and civilize the land. When things become desperate, an outsider rides in. He has compassion for the community and helps them out of a situation. But he doesn’t fit into the community and when things are settled, rides off into the sunset. 

Two films to consider in this genre. One is the 1953 classic Shane. The movie ends with Alan Ladd riding off after getting the bad guys as Joey, a boy he befriended, pleads, “Shane, come back.” The other is Pale Rider, released in 1985. It starred Clint Eastwood. The filming of the movie took place just outside of Camp Sawtooth, in Idaho, which I directed for a few summers shortly after it was filmed. With Pale Rider, it’s a young woman calling out her love for Eastwood’s character, “Preacher” as he rides off in the distance. In both cases, the outsider came and helped, but didn’t stick around.[1]  

Jesus asked not to stick around

Likewise, Jesus came and helped this community, and he doesn’t stick around. They don’t want him to stay. They fear his power and ask him to leave. Earlier in Luke’s gospel, Jesus tells his hometown synagogue that a prophet isn’t appreciated in their hometown.[2] Now, we see his lack of acceptance extending to the gentile world.  How did Jesus get here?

The answer to the question asked in the boat

Last week we focused on the storm that struck Jesus and the disciples’ boat as they sailed across Galilee. The disciples are stunned when Jesus spoke, and the wind and waves obeyed. “Who is this guy?” they ask.

Now, as they come across on the other side of the lake, they meet a man who appears not to be normal. That’s an understatement. He gave up wearing clothes and lives within the tombs. He has brute strength. Chains can’t hold him. Mark provides a few more details, such as people hear him roaming the hills and howling. He also harms himself with stones.[3]Obviously, he has problems. 

He meets Jesus and the disciples by the water and immediately falls to his knees and shouts, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High.” I find it interesting that aboard the boat, when the disciples asks themselves about Jesus, no one has a clue as to Jesus’ true identity. But now we have a demon confessing Jesus to be Lord, to be divine. “Even the demons believe,” the book of James tells us, “And [they] shudder.”[4]

The crazy man asks one thing, Jesus provides another

The man begs Jesus not to torment him and to leave him along. Now, Jesus could have done this, and everything would have been okay. After all, that’s what the man asks, but Jesus has compassion and knows it’s not the man speaking. Instead of ignoring him, as requested, Jesus provides what he needs. 

We don’t always get what we want. That’s good. Jesus offers a little tough love here. Sometimes the kind thing to do is not to give people what they say they want but what they need. 

Legions in the land

Jesus asks the man for his name and is told “Legion.” Luke tells us this is because many demons had entered the man. He was no longer in control. 

There are some interesting things about this name. Legion is a large unit within the Roman army. It would be equivalent to a division today, with a legion containing around 5600 men. Romans kept a Legion of men on this side of Galilee to have them readily available when the Jews revolted (something they did from time to time). It was easier to keep the bulk of their troops out of sight unless needed. Then, all they had to do was to march around the lake and assist the smaller local garrison reestablish control. 

We also know the Jews looked for a military Messiah to chase the Roman legions back to Italy and free Israel. Here, in the land were the Roman legion mustered, we see Jesus ridding a Legion, but one different from their imagination.[5]

The demons request

These demons are nervous as they know Jesus has the power to send them back into the abyss, which is what we see happening in the book of Revelation.[6] Ironically, Jesus not only shows compassion to the man, but to the demons. He allows their wish to be sent into a herd of pigs instead of being locked in a dreadful pit. They leave the man and enter the pigs, who run wild and off a cliff and into the water below. 

Evil destroys

There are a couple of things we should understand from this bizarre event. First, evil brings destruction. The demons attempted to destroy the man. As Mark tells us, he beat himself with stones.[7] Once the demons enter the pigs, they run into their own demise, drowning in the sea. 

The second thing is that there is a cost to the community for healing to occur.[8] Here, the cost was a herd of pigs. As the cliché goes (and is well known by those in the military), “freedom isn’t free. Someone pays the price.”

The land of the unkosher 

For Jews, being with an unclean man was against one’s faith. It wasn’t kosher. But neither are pigs. Jesus’ ministry here is unlike anything we’d seen from him in Jewish lands. It prefigures the church’s work with the Gentiles, which Jesus had already foretold when he spoke in his home synagogue. However, the Gentile mission is still in the future. 

The man as a disciple

Luke provides an interesting picture of Jesus and the man after the event just described. The man is in his right mind and sits at the feet of Jesus—a perfect picture of a faithful disciple. Perhaps because this man is a gentile, and Jesus is going back to finish up his Jewish ministry, Jesus refuses to allow the man to travel with him.[9] Instead, he sends him home to tell of what God has done. 

This is good advice to us, too. If we’ve experienced God’s grace, we need to share our experience with others. Like the man, we’re called to be a disciple, but we carry out our work apart from the physical presence of Jesus.

The fear of the people

The people, however, are afraid of Jesus and ask him to leave. It’s as if they could handle the crazy man, but they can’t handle someone with the power to set the crazy one right.[10]  

Clues to Jesus’ divinity

A few weeks ago, we saw Jesus, like God, had the power to forgive sins.[11] Then, last week, we saw that Jesus had power, like God, over nature.[12] Now we see that Jesus also has power over even human nature. Without coming out and saying it, Luke drives home this point: Jesus does the work of God and is God. 

And here, Luke reminds us that God’s mission isn’t just for the Jews, those like Jesus. While still off in the future, the mission to the gentiles will drive the church around the globe. 

Our invitation to proclaim what God has done

The invitation is for everyone hurting to come and encounter Jesus’ grace. There is forgiveness; there is his presence in the storms of life; there is hope even for the hopeless. We just don’t need to be afraid. Instead, like the man freed from his bondage to demons, we’re the ones who should proclaim how much God has done for us. Amen. 

[1] I’m indebted to John Wiley Nelson’s book, Your God is Alive and Well and Appearing in Popular Culture (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1976) for insight into the Western genre. Nelson would probably classify Pale Rider as an anti-Western, a subgenre of the Western motif.  

[2] Luke 4:24.

[3] Mark 5:1-5.

[4] James 2:19, NIV.

[5] James R. Edwards, The Gospel According to Luke (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 2015), 250. 

[6] Revelation 9:1-2, 11; 20:1-3.

[7] Mark 5:5.

[8] Fred B. Craddock, Luke: Interpretation, A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1990), 117. 

[9] Edwards, 251. 

[10] For good insight on fear in this passage see Scott Hoezee’s commentary on the text: https://cepreaching.org/commentary/2019-06-17/luke-826-39-2/

[11] https://fromarockyhillside.com/2022/06/all-are-in-need-of-forgiveness-the-seemingly-righteous-and-the-obvious-sinner/  

[12] https://fromarockyhillside.com/2022/07/let-jesus-calm-our-hearts/  

This groundhog spared demon possession, unlike his larger cousins

Four days and three nights in the Dry Tortugas

Dad, my sister Sharon, and me

Part of this was posted in a previous blog that is no longer available. I added more information to include the entire trip and am reposting it. In late April 2018, my father, sister, and I made this trip to the Dry Tortugas, which sit 68 miles west of Key West. There are no services on the island and it’s primitive camping. We brought kayaks with us along with everything we needed (including water). Thankfully, as a ferry makes it way to the islands every day, we could buy ice at an inflated price. We could also buy ice cream aboard the ferry!

Most of us camping on Garden Key stand together on the beach watching the light fade from the western sky. The skies are clear and the water surrounding the Key and Fort Jefferson ripple from the southerly wind. There’s a group of four women from South Florida along with several bird watchers from around the country. Soon a star appears in the southwest, Sirius, the Dog Star as well as Venus just above the horizon in the West. A few minutes later, the sky is darker. Rigel and Betelgeuse, the red star in Orion, are visible. “There’s Orion, setting early after having been up high all winter,” I say as I point out the stars. Soon we can make out the stars in Orion’s belt. In the spring, it appears as if the hunter is falling face-first out of the sky. In a few minutes, all the stars of Orion and his faithful dog, Canis Major, are clearly visible as is as well as the charioteer, Auriga, the V in Taurus the Bull, as well as the Seven Sisters, who according to mythology look out for travelers.  

Moored sailboats and the setting sun

We’re all travelers, enjoying a few days 70 miles from civilization. There are no signals on our cell phones and no way, unless someone brought a satellite hookup, to connect to the internet. I look back over my head to the northeast, I see the Big Dipper climbing higher in the sky. From it, I can easily find the North Star, low on the northern horizon, just above the ramparts of the fort. I point it out to the group.

How you know so much about the stars and night skies, one of the women from Miami asks. 

“I don’t know,” I say, “I just like spending time outdoors, especially at night.”  

My father checking out the terns (or was it the other way around?)

Slowly people drift back to their tents. It’s been a tiring day as my sister, father and I had gotten up at 4:30 AM, in order to have our gear and kayaks by the ferry at 6 AM for the run from Key West to the Tortugas. Then there was setting up camp for our three nights on the island, followed by a cooling snorkel around the outside of the fort’s moot. By then, it was time for dinner and then we went out for an evening paddle. We’d taken our kayaks out by Bush Key, where tens of thousands of Snooty Terns nest. The key now connected to Garden Key, but the park service has it closed off so as not to disturb the birds, which seem never to nest but mostly to fly around the key and out over the water, constantly chirping with one another. On Long Key, frigates nest. These large birds are as graceful as any navy frigate and the males, who puff up a red pouch under their head to attract females can strut better than any sailor on shore leave.  

I crawl into my bivy tent. The wind is blowing hard and the tarp, which we erected to protect us from the tropic sun, flaps constantly.  I am soon asleep.

Bush and Long Key from the walls of Fort Jefferson

I arise at 6:30.  The eastern sky is bright red.  My sister has already started the charcoal in my stove and boiled water for her tea.  I put coffee and water in my camping percolator and in a few minutes can see the water turn into dark black coffee.  When Dad gets up, we have breakfast. I’ve brought oatmeal. My sister has boiled eggs and precooked bacon and grits. We cut up some fruit and split it between us.

Our plan is to paddle to Loggerhead Key, which is located three miles to the west of Garden Key, the location of a long standing lighthouse (that went dark in 2014 and is no longer in use).  We pack lunches and snorkel gear. I have a marine radio, but the rangers insist we take at least one more and loan my sister one. Although the tide doesn’t vary much here (just a foot to eighteen inches) it does create a flow that runs the channel between the two keys, so we are warned to watch for currents. Unless a fog rolls in, which doesn’t seem likely in this weather, we’ll not have any problem as long as we stay focused on the Loggerhead lighthouse which rises 150 feet above the small strip of land.  The wind is still strong and coming out of the south, which requires us to paddle harder than normal.

About a quarter way to the island, my sister complains of her hands hurting and decides to go back to Garden Key. We were told that on a calm day it’d take an hour to paddle to the island and generally two hours to paddle back.  My dad and I keep paddling. It takes us almost an hour to paddle the three miles to Loggerhead, but that’s with a strong wind coming in at an angle, creating some swell. 

We arrive at Loggerhead Key at the same time as two guys on a dingy from their sailboat to the island. Like me, they have come to snorkel. Soon, we run into the lighthouse keeper. He has volunteered to stay on the island and watch over those who visit for a month. The park service provides him a home with electricity (they have huge panels of solar cells).  He checks in with visitors (he provided us with tips on where to snorkel), and operates a water desalination system that provides water to rangers in the Tortugas. He’s responsible for his own food.  

We walk across the island and snorkel on the west side. He points out some places to check out. We are blessed with seeing huge growths of brain coral along with large aquatic plants. I love the huge purple sea fans that half my size. I see plenty of fish: angelfish, butterflyfish, a variety of snapper and grouper, the seemingly ubiquitous “Sergeant Majors”, and several large barracuda. Hiding inside hollow parts of the coral are long-spined sea urchin.  After an hour and a half of snorkeling (my dad gave it up much earlier), I join him on the beach for lunch (Vienna sausage, cheese and crackers, a pear, and plenty of water).  After lunch, I go back out and snorkel for another 40 minutes or so, before packing up and heading across the island to our kayaks.  

Snorkeling off Loggerhead Key
Selfie, paddling back

We leave at 1 PM.  The wind has calmed, and the paddle back is easy. We don’t rush. It only takes us a little over an hour and fifteen minutes, well less than the two hours we were told to expect.  We make it back in time to buy some ice and ice cream on the ferry (it leaves at 2:45 PM).  After resting, I join my sister with snorkeling around the fort.  The wind dies and the squawk of terns replace the sound of the flapping tarp. We enjoy steak for dinner. We froze the steaks and let them thaw in the cooler. We also have steamed cauliflower I’d brought from my garden. I am sure I’m the only person on this key eating homegrown cauliflower. 

I spend some time in the late afternoon and evening inside the fort, finding a shady spot, where I read and journal. It’s been a long day and shortly after sunset, I’m in bed. There is no wind and it’s warm. I lay on top of my sleeping bag and fall asleep.  

Campsite from the walls of the fort

Nature calls at 5 AM, and I crawl out of my tent to take care of business. The ground is soaked with a heavy dew. As I look up at the morning stars. The summer constellations are out and they are not generally this bright, but without any artificial light, the sky is brilliant. I easily spot Scorpius. It’s much higher above the southern horizon than I am accustomed to seeing it. At higher latitude, the constellation is only partly seen above the southern horizon. This morning, its pinchers are reaching out as if to grab Jupiter. To the left of the scorpion is the winged-horse archer, Sagittarius. Its arrow drawn and aimed at the deadly cosmic insect. Mars and Saturn appear to be resting on its wings. I’m treated to three planets in close proximity. There is no wind, but there is no silence either. I don’t think any of the terns on Bush Key slept last night. I crawl back into my tent and snooze for another hour.

Sharon Snorkeling

On the second full day on the island, we spend time snorkeling and paddle around the three keys. On this trip, I spot several turtles from where the islands get their name (Tortugas is turtle in Spanish). The dry part of the name was added to charts to indicate to seafarers the lack of fresh water on the islands. 

We also see a wreck sailboat that broke apart between Bush and Long Key. I later learned from a ranger that the owner of the boat had decided not to ride out a hurricane in Key West and tried to sail it single handed to the protected waters of the Tortugas. Because of the approach of the storm, the rangers had been evacuated, but there were several fishing boats moored in the natural harbor south of the fort. They saw him coming in, trying to make a channel between the keys, which had filled in. Sadly, the sailor had an old chart. He lost everything and one of the fishing crews rescued him, saving his life.

Fish fry

On the way back, Sharon and I snorkel offshore, looking for an old shipwreck. We don’t find it, but do see some nursing sharks, of which the island is famous. We also trade for some fish with a commercial fishing operator who is cleaning his fish just offshore.  That evening, we have fresh fish, enough that we share with others camping on the island.

On our last full day on the island, we do more snorkeling. I also spend several hours going through Fort Jefferson. Building the fort began in 1835. Its purpose was to support a Southern fleet protecting the ports of Mobile and New Orleans. During the Civil War, the north quickly garrisoned soldiers on the island keeping it from falling into Southern hands. Up until this time, those on the key were construction workers including many slaves. Work continued on the fort, as they brought in bricks from New England. The lower part of the fort had bricks from Florida, which are a pale orange color. The top bricks are redder. 

Also During the Civil War, the army added canons, which were never fired. The fort’s main use was as a prison. The fort was built upon a series of cisterns in which rain was collected. This was to allow the fort to withstand a siege (they also could grow vegetables inside the walls of the fort). However, the weight of the bricks cracked the walls of the cisterns. Only three cisterns could be used as salt water infiltrated the rest. Another design flaw was the moot. Like other similar forts (such as Fort Pulaski near Savannah), the sewage dumped into the moot and flushed during high tide. However, the closer one gets to the equator, the less tidal difference one has, so the sewage just sat and never completely washed out, creating a terrible stench (thankfully, the National Park Service no longer uses the moot to handle sewage). The last design flaw were the bricks that made up the fort. While these forts proved strong against round cannonballs, the introduction of rifled canons just before the Civil War made the fort less safe. Construction halted in 1875. The fort was never completed. 

Fort view from waterline

But the fort didn’t stay abandoned long. Before the Century was out, the navy maintained a coaling station on the island. They also operated a large desalination plant for fresh water for navy ships and personnel on the island. However, this was short lived as the navy abandoned its coal burning ships for oil burners. 

In the afternoon a three-some of peregrine falcons show up, perched on the fort’s ramparts. Obviously, there is one too many and there seems to be some kind of courting ritual going on. Their presence, however, affects the behavior of other birds around us. When they take to the air, the birds around our campsite hang close to the ground, even flying under the picnic table where I sit. I suppose we are of less threat to them than to be attacked in mid-flight by a hungry falcon.

Ferry from Key West

Out last day was busy as we had to have everything back at the ship by 10:30 AM, so that they could load everything. Thankfully, the ferry also had freshwater showers which allowed us to clean up before the trip back to Key West. We had four beautiful sunny days on the island.  

Let Jesus Calm Our Hearts

Jeff Garrison
Bluemont and Mayberry Churches
July 3, 2022
Luke 8:22-25

Sermon taped at Mayberry Church on Friday, July 1, 2022. Remember, during the summer, weather permitting, both churches will be worshipping outside.

At the beginning of worship:

I’m afraid the church, as an institution, along with our world, is heading for stormy waters. Some who claim to be a part of the church are doing outrageous things. From Christian nationalism to the extreme, a pastor in Texas preaching for the execution of gays. So much for love and grace and forgiveness and other Christ-like virtues. “Shoot them in the back of the head,” he suggested.[1] I don’t want to be a part of an organization like that, and hopefully neither do you.

Sadly, one outlier like him tends to taint all of us who strive to follow Jesus (not that I think he was following Jesus, but that’s another topic). Such renegades provide those outside the church with a reason to stay outside. In this series of sermons, I want to consider how to invite people into the church. We have work to do, to overcome such behavior which creates a negative view of the Church. 

The challenge to today’s church

The amount of hate spewed toward the church and Christianity seems to be on the rise. When those outside the Church lump us all together, they miss the concept of the church as a place of love, acceptance, and grace. The church consists of people like us, who admit our sinfulness, and depend on the grace offered by Jesus Christ. Without his grace, we’d all be sailing into a storm without a rudder.

Being Christians

“We should not simply be known as Christians,” Ignatius told the church in the second century, “but really be Christians.”[2] That advice still holds true for today.

In this stormy time in which the world seems to be headed, we need to do a better job of conveying the love and grace of Jesus. We must show the world we care and accept one another with open arms. As we’re all in the same boat, we illustrate our trust in Jesus. We need to be good neighbors while modelling compassion and love. We don’t know how things will turn out, but we have faith that God is amongst us and in the end, everything will work out. But sometimes, when we are in the middle of a storm, it’s easy to lose sight of this, as we’re going to see in our Scripture for today. 

Read Luke 8:22-25

The Savannah Sail Club often held late Wednesday afternoon regattas during the longer days of summer. A group of us from the Landings Sail Club would often sail with them. These were fun times. However, because of thunderstorms, such events were frequently cancelled. 

Sailing in a Gal

Then there was this time. The day had been hot, and the wind squirrelly. The weather forecast suggested the storms popping up inland and moving north. This was often the case for the sea breeze would come in during the afternoon. The cool wind from over the ocean blows across the hot land, which generally kept the storms inland. 

We were sailing out of the Skidaway River, on the second leg of the race, making for the marker at the Wilmington River where we were to head toward Wassaw Sound, before rounding a buoy and returning to the Savannah Yacht Marina on Wilmington Island. That’s when we realized the sea breeze wasn’t as strong as we thought as a storm moved quickly over us. We were hit with 45 mile an hour straight line winds, and it was all we could do to keep the boat upright. 

Crewing on a Rhodes 19

I was part of a three-person crew on a Rhodes 19, a small racing dingy. All three of us climbed up on the high side of the boat, trying to balance it out. I controlled the jib sheets, letting the foresail out to spill wind. Chris took control of the main sheets from Ken and did the same. Ken, who was at the helm, pulled hard on the rudder to bring us into the wind, but it wasn’t much use. A boat heeled over that far means only a small part of the rudder is in the water. We struggled, as a torrent of rain accompanied the winds. 

Right next to us, also heeled over, was a much larger boat with a mast a good 10 taller than ours. That boat was named “Lightning Rod.” It seemed a bad omen as lightning bolts began to pop around us. With the wind, the beating rain, lighting bolts instantly followed by the clamp of thunder, I thought we might perish. Sadly, we didn’t have Jesus physically on board to wake up and still the storm, but I can assure you, prayers were offered. 

Prayers answered

Our prayers were answered and in a few minutes the wind died. The water that had been foaming became like glass. There was no wind, and the tide was running against us. We lost all headway, as the boat moved backwards. 

It’s terrifying to be on a small boat in a gale. Thankfully, in the storm I described, the terrifying part only lasted maybe ten minutes, then there was bailing and checking gear to make sure nothing broke during the gale. 

Sailing on mountain lakes

Sailing on mountain lakes, like Galilee, can even be more terrifying. The wind funnels down the mountain through ravines and pours out onto the water like the exhaust from a turbine. The interaction between the warm waters and the cool air from the hills creates unpredictable weather. Such a situation is challenging, even for seasoned sailors like half of the disciples who fished for a living. 

Gillian’s Island Interlude

We could open this passage with the Legend of Gilligan’s Island:

Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale
a tale of a fateful trip,
that started from this tropic port,
aboard this tiny ship.[3]

The area around Galilee was tropical. Located below sea level, the climate was moderate enough that crops could be grown most of the year. And the lake is only nine miles long, seven miles wide, so the disciples and Jesus aren’t planning to be gone too long. They push off from one side of the lake, expecting to arrive on the other in a few hours at the most. Just like with Gilligan, this should be no more than a three-hour cruise. 

Jesus, who may be weary from teaching and preaching, decides to take a nap. He’ll let those seasoned boaters take him across the waters. Then the storm hits. 

Sleeping through the storm

And Jesus sleeps soundly in the stern of the boat.

I’m sure Jesus sleeping irritated the disciples; after all, he suggested they all sail to the other side. And as they work to bail out the water, Jesus snores. 

It appears they wake Jesus, not because they think he can help, but because they want him to know that they’re all doomed. Interestingly, Jesus gets up and rebukes the wind and the waves. Rebuke implies dealing with evil, and perhaps the storm was another of Satan’s attempts to do away with Jesus.[4] But Jesus’ words contain power. 

Two questions

The storm dies and the boat floats on calm water, no longer in danger of capsizing. Then Jesus turns to the disciples and asks, “Where is your faith?” How do they answer such a question?  We’re not told they did; instead, they ponder “just who is this guy that commands the wind and the sea, and they obey.” 

While Jesus’ question reminds the disciples that they, like us, need to trust him, I think the disciples ask a more interesting question. “Who is Jesus?” It’s essentially the same question we saw asked a few weeks ago when Jesus forgave the sinful woman. Those at the table asked, “Who is this that can forgive sin?”[5] Neither question is answered. As James Edwards summarizes in his commentary on this text: “The right questions lead not to pat and ready answers, but to awe and wonder in the presence of Jesus.”[6]

The Edmund Fitzgerald

The ballad, “the Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” has a haunting question. “Does anyone know where the love of God goes when the waves turn the minutes into hours. The disciples didn’t realize at this point in their ministry with Jesus that God was with them, in the stern. 

What does faith mean at times like this

What does it mean to have faith during a storm? Does it mean that everything will be okay? Or are we left with the assurance that we are in God’s hands? And we can trust that no matter what happens, God is with us?

The Troubles of the world

It appears the church, our nation, and our world is sailing into stormy waters. The war in Ukraine causes untold amounts of devastation to that country while threatening the world’s food supply. In places like Ethiopia, you have war and famine. Religious unrest seems always to be simmering somewhere in the world, most lately in India and Sri Lanka. We seem to encounter one disease after another, from COVID variants to Monkeypox to the deadly Ebola virus which keeps popping up in sub-Sahara Africa. The distrust between the political parties in our own country, in which both seem more interested in their own power than the good of the whole, destroys the ability of working together. 

Who do we trust?

As the storm clouds darken, who do we trust? That’s a question we all may be asking. And if not, we will be asking it. Do we look for a savior among politicians and diplomats and business leaders? Or do we look to the only Savior the world has known?

Back in the 90s, when people still used phone books, a group of churches in Cedar City, Utah, where I was pastor, created an ad that appeared on the back cover of Southern Utah University’s student and faculty directory. We got permission from the Jesus Film folks to use a still shot from that movie which depicted Jesus standing up in a boat during a gale and raising up his hands to calm the wind and sea. The caption read, “he calmed the sea, let him calm your hearts,” and then listed the churches who sponsored the ad. 

Jesus calmed the seas, let him calm your hearts. I think that’s still good advice for today’s world. Amen. 

[1] https://www.newsweek.com/pastor-gay-people-solution-killings-bible-1714037

[2] James R. Edwards, From Christ to Christianity: How the Jesus Movement Became the Church in Less than a Century (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2021), 232. Edwards quotes Ignatius’ To the Magnesians, 4.

[3] https://www.songlyrics.com/gilligan-s-island/gilligans-theme-song-lyrics/

[4] Fred B. Craddock, Luke: Interpretation, A Biblical Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1990), 114. 

[5][5] Luke 7:49.  See https://fromarockyhillside.com/2022/06/all-are-in-need-of-forgiveness-the-seemingly-righteous-and-the-obvious-sinner/  

[6] James R. Edwards, The Gospel According to Luke (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2015), 247.

5:45 AM this morning